Sony WF-1000XM5 review

At $570, Sony’s WF-1000XM5 earbuds are some of the most expensive premium earbuds on the market. However, these are premium earbuds through and through.

With their dual-processor system and the new Dynamic Driver X, the XM5s boast some of the best audio quality I’ve experienced in earbuds. Combine that with market-leading active noise cancellation (ANC) capabilities, numerous advanced features and a long-lasting battery, and these are some of the best earbuds you can buy.

But they’re not perfect. The lack of touch control customisation can be frustrating, the new design can be tricky to handle, and the case is a little flimsy, not to mention the price.

Overall though Sony has done a good job of improving on the already very good WF-1000XM4s, the WF-1000XM5 are brilliant.

Pros

  • Brilliant audio quality
  • Long lasting battery
  • Market leading ANC
  • LDAC support
  • Loads of advanced features

Cons

  • Lack of touch input customisation
  • Expensive

Price

The WF-1000XM5 earbuds – from here on, I’ll refer to them as XM5s – cost $570. This is very expensive.

As a comparison, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II cost $469, Apple’s AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) cost $450 and even Sony’s WF-1000XM4 earbuds cost $500 at release.

So what’s new?

Sony hasn’t introduced many dramatic changes with the XM5s. Instead of an innovative new set of earbuds, the XM5s feel more like an iterative product, with improvements introduced where needed.

The first thing you’ll notice is the design. Sony has reduced the size of the earbuds by 25%, and they’re also 20% lighter than their predecessors. The touch inputs have also been improved, increasing sensitivity and response time.

Bass capabilities are better here as well. The XM5s can produce deeper, clearer bass frequencies when compared to the XM4s. There’s also a new feature called “Find Your EQ,” which allows you to find better audio balance and equalise the audio to your specific tastes more easily.

The active noise cancellation (ANC) has also been improved. With six microphones and two processors that track ambient sounds and reduce them in real time, the XM5s do a better job of cancelling the outside world.

Sony WF-1000XM5 review

Design

The XM5s are 25% smaller and 20% lighter than their predecessors. I found them more comfortable than the already very comfortable XM4s, and I could easily wear them for long periods without issue.

Boasting a familiar rounded shape with a tip that twists into the ear, the XM5s now sport a glossy plastic/matte exterior instead of the full matte finish found on the XM4s. They look more classy and sleek, and their smaller size means they don’t stick out of your ear quite as much. But the glossy material makes getting the earbuds out of the case difficult. Often, my fingers would slip off the earbuds, and I would have to pry them out with my thumb. It’s not a major problem, but it’s an issue I didn’t have with other earbuds.

Sony’s proprietary memory foam tips remain. They come in four sizes: Super Small, Small, Medium, and Large, which should accommodate most ears. There’s an in-app fit test to get the right fit, and I had no problems finding the right ones for me. The memory foam tips did a good job of moulding to the shape of my ear, providing a secure seal with next to no audio leakage.

The XM5s support all the touch inputs you’d expect in a premium set of earbuds. You can skip tracks, pause audio, turn the volume up and down, answer calls, turn ANC on/off and more. Unfortunately, there’s no sliding options due to the earbuds’ shape. This means you have to tap the earbuds four times to raise and lower the volume. While I didn’t come across any issues with the earbuds recognising my inputs, it did feel a bit like I was hammering them into the side of my head at times. 

I was also disappointed with the touch input customisation options. There are two groups, playback controls and ambient sound controls, and frustratingly you can’t customise individual commands. That means you’re stuck with whatever Sony has selected. If you don’t like skip track being two presses, too bad you can’t change it. You can only turn them off completely or switch which earbud they’re on. Not ideal.

Sony has introduced head-tracking features here as well. While I didn’t use them often, you can nod your head to answer phone calls and turn autoplay on or, shake your head to reject phone calls or turn autoplay off. It works well and does a good job of recognising when you’re performing these actions.

The earbuds and the case boast an IPX4 resistance rating, meaning they’ll resist water splashes. This is standard in the industry. The Bose QuietComfort earbuds and the Apple AirPods Pro boast IPX4 resistance ratings.

The case has reduced in size as well. It’s very small and can easily fit into your pocket; however, the lid does feel a tad flimsy. On the back, there’s a USB-C port for charging.

Sound

The audio quality of the XM5s is brilliant. These are some of the best sounding earbuds out there.

Sony’s 8.4mm Dynamic Driver X, combined with the dual processor arrangement of Sony’s HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN2e and Integrated Processor V2, allows the earbuds to produce clear, high-quality audio. 

This combination has also improved the bass capabilities. Bass frequencies are deeper and clearer, and sub-frequencies have never sounded better. They don’t muddy the mix and can be easily heard in conjunction with other sounds. The earbuds also support Sony’s “Clear Bass” feature, which cleans up the bass to remove distortion and muddiness. The overall result is very good. Listening to bass-heavy tracks like Oh No by Yelawolf and Bruiser Brigade by Danny Brown, the lower frequencies were present without distorting the mix or taking over the soundstage.

Other genres sound great as well. Rock and Roll All Nite by KISS, Now We Are Free by Hans Zimmer and Video Games by Ramin Djawadi all sound very good.

The Sony Connect app has an equaliser you can use to get the audio exactly how you want. There are several presets you can use; however, I preferred using Sony’s new feature, “Find Your EQ”, which plays music and gives you a number of selections – each altering the sound of the audio slightly – you can select in real-time. Once you’ve reviewed two or three selections, you’re given a Custom EQ preset that matches your preferences. It’s significantly easier than adjusting sliders in an equaliser and is an effective way to get music just how you like.

The earbuds support LDAC, SB3, AAC and LC3. DSEE Extreme is here as well, which restores high-range sound that gets lost during the compression process. While I didn’t notice a huge difference when turning this on, I was able to hear finer details in most tracks, and they felt fuller.

If you have an app that supports it, like Tidal, the XM5s also support 360° reality audio as well.

Sony WF-1000XM5 review

ANC

The active noise cancellation here is right up there with the best wireless earbuds. There’s little to no difference between the XM5s, the Bose QuietComfort 2s and the AirPods Pros. They all do a very good job of cancelling outside noise.

The XM5s have three microphones on each earbud, which are very good at low-frequency noise cancellation. These microphones, combined with Sony’s dual-processor setup, produce great results. Standing next to my partner with ANC on full and audio volume at 50%, I couldn’t hear anything she said. It’s impressive.

Sony has included Adaptive Sound Control here as well. This automatically changes the ANC depending on four types of motion: sitting, walking, running and transport. It will recognise the motion you’re performing and will adjust the audio and ANC to accommodate. You can customise these as well. It’s a nice feature and is genuinely helpful.

There’s support for ambient sound here as well. This uses the same ANC microphones to pick up outside noise and play it into your ear so you can hear what’s around you. It’s fine, but it does sound less natural than other earbuds I’ve used. It sounds tinny and a bit distorted at times.

Features

The XM5s support additional advanced features like Speak-to-Chat. This recognises when you’re speaking and will reduce the volume of the audio in the earbuds so you can hear what someone is saying to you. 

You can also connect the earbuds with up to two devices simultaneously. This means you could listen to videos on your laptop while still being connected to your phone so you can hear notifications or calls coming through.

There’s Sony Autoplay support as well, which will pause the audio if you take the earbuds out of your ears and resume playing when you put them back in. This works very well.

Sony WF-1000XM5 review

Battery

Unfortunately, the battery life of the XM5s hasn’t improved over its predecessor. However, it’s still market-leading, with roughly 8 hours of battery with ANC on and 12 hours with it off – depending on usage. As a comparison, the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) boasts 6 hours of battery with ANC on and 9 hours with it off.

The case holds an additional 24 hours of charge. 

The earbuds support Qi wireless charging and standard USB-C charging. There’s also the Super Quick Charge feature, which will give you 60 minutes of battery life with just three minutes of charging. That’s very good, but you’ll need a USB-C to USB-C cord to do this, and the one in the box is USB-A to USB-C.

Verdict

The Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds offer a premium audio experience with excellent sound quality, effective ANC, and comfortable design improvements.

These are some of the best earbuds on the market. Audio quality, ANC, and battery life are the key areas where earbuds need to succeed, and Sony has done an excellent job of improving on what were already market-leading earbuds in the XM4s.

But the improvements aren’t so significant that they demand upgrading to Sony’s latest flagship. If you already have the WF-1000XM4 earbuds, you won’t get a drastically better experience with the WF-1000XM5.

A few minor quirks still need to be improved, like a lack of touch control customisation and an occasionally frustrating glossy finish that makes it challenging to handle the earbuds. Still, these are minor inconveniences; overall, these are exceptional earbuds. 

Yes, at $570, they’re more expensive than the competition. Still, at that price, you’re getting earbuds packed full of advanced features like Speak-to-Chat, Adaptive Sound Control, Sony Autoplay, Find Your EQ, 360° Reality Audio, Head Tracking and market-leading battery life, not to mention the audio quality and ANC capabilities. 

If you can afford them, you’ll love the XM5s, but if you can’t, there are cheaper options that aren’t quite as good but deliver an almost comparable experience.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Price
Design
Audio
ANC
Battery
Features
Patch Bowen
Patch Bowen is an accomplished technology journalist with a solid academic foundation, holding a degree from Auckland University. His expertise spans across a range of tech topics, with a notable focus on product reviews, industry trends, and the impact of technology on society. With his work featured on major New Zealand websites like Stuff.co.nz, thebit.nz, and The Press, Patch has established himself as a credible voice in technology media. His articles are known for their detailed analysis and practical insights, particularly in making complex technological concepts understandable for a broad audience. At ReviewsFire, Patch is renowned for his thorough evaluations and clear, informative writing style. He has a knack for identifying and explaining the nuances of the latest gadgets and digital trends, earning him a reputation as a trusted source for tech advice and information.
sony-wf-1000xm5-review At $570, Sony’s WF-1000XM5 earbuds are some of the most expensive premium earbuds on the market. However, these are premium earbuds through and through. With their dual-processor system and the new Dynamic Driver X, the XM5s boast some of the best audio quality I’ve experienced...

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